Turf and Surf

Jan 21, 2011 | 1 comment

Ferndale, California

We took time on our trek south yesterday to nip into Ferndale, just to have another look at some of the lovely old homes that have made the town famous – or, as Nyel says, “a tourist trap.”  We hadn’t been there since the 1990s, a year or two after a series of big earthquakes.  We found the town still in the aftershock of recovery from yet another earthquake just last year.

Even so, Ferndale in Humboldt County, California, seems prosperous and thriving by Oysterville, Pacific County, Washington, standards.  It’s hard to compare the two, in a way – Oysterville with its full-time population of 14 and Ferndale with almost one hundred times as many, 1,382.  Still, they began during the same era (Oysterville in 1854, Ferndale six years later), both are on historic registers, and both draw thousands of lookie-loos like us every year.  There, however, the similarities end.

Ferndale has a fairly large commercial center, at least by Oysterville standards.  The attractive old buildings are almost exclusively tourist-oriented – boutiques and galleries filled with temptations for every pocketbook. Most shops, too, coordinate their hours (eleven or noon until five) to the leisurely schedules of the bed-and-breakfast set.

Ferndale’s prosperity, based on the dairy business, came more slowly than Oysterville’s boom-and-bust history based on exploiting a natural resource.  By the time Ferndale incorporated in the 1890s, Oysterville had already run through the supply of native oysters and had lost their status as Pacific County Seat.  The magnificent old homes of Ferndale, known as “Butterfat Palaces” speak of an era of opulence, as compared to Oysterville’s far more conservative Victorians.

There are still dairy farms in Humboldt County and there are still oysters in Shoalwater Bay, but tourism is now the name of the game for both Ferndale and Oysterville, just as it is for historic communities world-wide.

As we headed back down the highway after our visit, I wondered whether to give credit to or place blame on the automobile…

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    Are any of the houses open to the public? Thanks for taking us on your journey, Sydney!


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